Something Annoying about the South

I opened up Tom Franklin's Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter just now. I've been looking forward to reading it. I enjoyed Poachers, his short story collection, and I'd heard this book was better.

But I was stopped cold before I even began, reminded of Something Annoying about the South, by Franklin's epigraph, which was this:

M-I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, crooked letter, crooked letter, I, humpback, humpback I.
--How southern children are taught to spell Mississippi. (emphasis mine)

I grew up in northeast New Jersey, Bergen County to be exact, and my father taught me that ditty (except it was hunchback, not humpback). And he was born in a house just a few blocks from the house I grew up in and his parents were German. So no southern influence there.

It's like the woman I met at a party when I first moved down here who said, "That just gets me so riled up." What she was riled up about I don't remember, but I do remember that she looked at me and said, "You probably don't even know what 'riled up' means, being from up north." She followed this with a pitying look, sorry that I didn't come from such a rich oral tradition.

That got me riled up! We speak the same language, north and south, share an American culture. The south isn't some rarefied bastion of unique and folksy phrases that don't exist "up north." I can understand you. We have the same vocabulary. It's the same shit, just with different vowel sounds.

Get over yourselves already and have a glass of sweet tea. Bless your hearts.

PS Still looking forward to the novel.
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2 Response to Something Annoying about the South

July 25, 2011 at 7:46 PM

I don't understand how that saying makes it an easier to remember how to spell Mississippi. It's pretty much phonetic--you just have to remember that it's all double consonants, except for the M at the beginning and when would you ever have a double-m anyway. Is it a song or something?

July 26, 2011 at 6:18 AM

I learned it as more of a chant like a nursery rhyme--rhythmic but no melody. And you're right--I don't think I made the orthographic connection until adulthood!

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